LONGTIME SAFETY SAFARI MEMBER JERE 'LEFTY' GRICE TO RETIRE AFTER AUTO CLUB OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA NHRA FINALS POMONA, Calif. -- The scariest moments are the ones you can never prepare for -- seeing a dragster go out of control and diving into ...
LONGTIME SAFETY SAFARI MEMBER JERE 'LEFTY' GRICE TO RETIRE AFTER AUTO CLUB OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA NHRA FINALS
POMONA, Calif. -- The scariest moments are the ones you can never prepare for -- seeing a dragster go out of control and diving into the flames in a split-second moment when quick reaction outweighs thought.
The men and women who are tested and can handle the pressure -- like 31-year veteran Jere "Lefty" Grice -- are invaluable to NHRA. But after more than 10 years traveling the POWERade Series fulltime with the NHRA Safety Safari presented by AAA, Grice, who turned 65 at the Seattle race, will retire after the 42nd annual Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
Grice's involvement with NHRA drag racing began like many others' -- when he raced the first car he ever owned, a 1948 Plymouth with a '54 Dodge V8 engine, near his home in Louisiana in 1956.
"I never won nothing, but I had fun," Grice said. "Back then you could have fun for cheap."
It wasn't long before a friend Grice met at a local speed shop, announcer Dave McClelland, persuaded him to work at NHRA tracks part time. Grice worked in construction and as a television photographer before signing up fulltime with NHRA.
In 2006, Grice logged more than 30,000 miles pulling the registration trailer behind the Emergency 3 GMC one-ton dually. Even though Grice plans to use his new spare time fishing and working around a campsite he owns in Louisiana, he plans to make appearances at POWERade events near his home. In fact, he'll continue to offer energy-tweaking ideas for improving track preparation and clean-up between rounds and after oil downs.
His job description has changed through the years: from fire driver (when Grice was one of the first responders to accidents on the track); to equipment maintenance worker to Top End, where Grice implemented a system of common hand signals that helped drivers know when and where to turn off of the track after the finish line. The tire dragger he invented for track maintenance is the one used at POWERade Series events today.
Thanks to his dedication and others like him, the tradition of excellence NHRA started when it developed motorsports' first traveling safety team will continue for many years to come. The key, Grice says, is knowing the other members of the team so well they can predict the others' actions. That's how Grice and Randy "Double R" Robbins, director of the Safety Safari, became friends.
There are plenty of reasons Robbins will miss having Grice on the road with them -- but the biggest is the time they spent talking about "the good old days we were just having fun cutting up and carrying on," said Robbins, who also joined the Safety Safari part time in 1976.
"I was a (Kentucky State Trooper) when I started working (at the track)," Robbins said. "Later on I started driving an emergency truck, and he worked on the back. He was my second pair of eyes. A lot of the time he was on the back standing up, so he could see stuff that was coming toward us I couldn't see. Then if he was going into the car that was on fire, I would be behind him with a hose."
And he was usually beside him after a day at the races, when road warriors use the final hours of the day to relax, joke around and prepare for the next day. Robbins has pictures of his younger self with Grice and friends they met through NHRA -- like the one of Grice, nicknamed "Lefty" because he is left-handed, pretending to eat a palm tree by the trailer.
"We're still having fun, but we were able to know a lot of the same people and enjoy their friendships (together) throughout the years," Robbins said. "I will miss the good old days. As we go along time changes everything. Nothing's going to go backwards."